Syrian rebels south of Aleppo fire from their position against loyalists to Bashar al-Assad's regime. These rebels likely are part of the group that rejected the opposition Syrian National Coalition. (Image Source: Reuters)
While the Free Syrian Army struggles to maintain a position in Syria's south in its fight against Bashar al-Assad's regime, rebels have taken control of much of the north. However, unlike their secular southern comrades, the rebels of Syria's north have a far more Islamist and Salafist bent to them. This was demonstrated today, when a coalition of 12 northern rebel groups rejected the legitimacy of the Syrian National Coalition, the Western-backed government-in-exile, as being the legitimate successor of the Assad regime, for lacking a "clear Islamic framework." This should give Western powers all the more hesitance to call for an intervention in Syria.
The grouping of Syrian rebels included the prominent Jabhat al-Nusra fighting force, Liwa al-Tawhid, and Liwa al-Islam. Some of the groups identified as being part of this new grouping previously supported the Syrian National Coalition and the Supreme Military Council, which supposedly oversees rebel operations. These rebels have been focusing primarily on the city of Aleppo, with control evenly split between them and the Assad regime and lesser towns in the north and east not already controlled by the Kurds.
What makes this group distinct is that they mostly consist of Salafists and hardline Sunni Muslims, favoring an Islamist approach to governing the country. Jabhat al-Nusra itself was previously part of al-Qaeda, though the two forces have since split ways. They are backed with financial and logistical support from Saudi Arabia, as well as foreign fighters from Iraq and elsewhere. Their presence in Syria represents exactly the type of fighters that Assad was hoping for: Foreign jihadis that double as terrorists towards Syria.
Notably, the statement lacks of two key figures: Any Syrian rebel groups based in the south, particularly the Free Syrian Army, and the al-Qaeda-backed Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS). The rebels of Syria's north have been operating independently of the Free Syrian Army for quite some time now, meaning that it likely did not know this was happening. More importantly, though, it likely means that if, by some miracle, Assad is forced out of the country, it will likely mean that the Free Syrian Army will fight their former allies alongside the remnants of Syria's Baathist regime, drawing out the civil war for far longer than the West wants.
Meanwhile, ISIS has prematurely resorted to attacking other Syrian rebels to establish themselves selfishly as the prominent force in the north, even though Syria has not yet reduced itself to warlordism. This dysfunction and hostility to outside help likely means that any efforts to help the Syrian rebels will likely backfire immensely in people's faces.